The Goldfinch was another one of my summer reading pleasures. Donna Tartt, creates an almost Dickensian world of loss, friendship, criminality and redemption with the world of art, and the love of old and well crafted things as its backdrop.
The story is told from the point of view of Theodore Decker, a thirteen year old boy whose mother dies in a terrorist attack while they’re visiting the art museum. Theodore’s mother has a passion for art which she shares with her son. Before leaving the ruined museum, he meets “Welty” who gives him a ring and somehow signals to him to take The Goldfinch, a beautiful painting by the 17th century dutch painter Carel Fabritius. The Goldfinch is a rendering of a small bird, chained to its perch. The horrifying notion of a beautiful but chained bird becomes a driving metaphor for life throughout the book.
Theodore’s life is destroyed by the loss of his mother and as he tumbles down the rabbit hole of loss and grief, the painting he has taken is the one thing that gives him a reason to live. The calmness he feels when he holds the painting gets him through his worst times.
The book is a study on how we create family when its taken from you. First Theodore lands at the Barbours, a wealthy, deeply eccentric family of his friend Andy. When his less than perfect father and his girlfriend come to claim him, off he goes to Las Vegas where he is left mostly to his own devices while his father and his girlfriend gamble to earn their living.
One of the parts of the book I love the most is when he meets Boris, a young boy his age whose mother is also dead and whose father is a violent, crazy, Ukrainian drunk who works in mines all over the world. The two boys spend their days playing truant, drinking, doing drugs and embarking on a life of petty crime.
Tartt captures the authenticity of adolescent friendship that feels real and funny and sad at the same time.
The boys eventually separate when Theo heads back to New York but it’s the unlikely ups and downs of this friendship that drives the second half of the book. The painting goes missing and the two re-unite to find it.
In between, of course, there is so much more. Theo finds a home with Hobie, the partner of Welty, and learns the world of antiques. None of the friendship and safety offered by Hobie stops Theo’s descent into addiction and criminal wrong-doing. Ultimately he has to decide if he’s going to live or die and in the end, like the life of the goldfinch, he has to make peace with his lot in life.
I loved he book but thought it was too long in sections. My husband read the book and said the word I fear most “Shantaram” a book he detested for its long-windedness. I would agree that this book could have used a good edit. Still, it was a great world to be a part of and I loved how art was upheld as a necessary outcome and reflection of the human experience.